May 28, 2016

Sunday: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

(James Tissot: Feeding of the 5,000)

"Give them some food yourselves"

Gen 14: 18-20
1 Cor 11: 23-26
Lk 9: 11b – 17

In the celebration of our Mass, as the bread and wine are offered by the priest and the generous offering of the congregation is collected, once the offertory song stops, the priest addresses the community: “Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God the almighty Father.” This has always struck me as a very important line: “my sacrifice and yours.”  What does this imply?

It implies that the Eucharist is not a private devotion or an action solely of the priest. While the priest stands sacramentally in the person of Christ the celebration of the Mass it is not just his thing. The congregation is gathered to offer this great prayer of thanksgiving to the Father in heaven. It is “my sacrifice and yours” each according to our roles in the Church. While the priest plays a central role the gathered assembly participates fully and consciously with him in offering their lives in thanksgiving to the Father. In the end, however, we cannot forget that it is Christ himself offered for us and to us. As he is given for us we are called to give something ourselves.

We hear this echoed in our Gospel story this Sunday.  It is one familiar to us and an event that clearly made a lasting impression on the early Christians, many or at least some of whom were likely present.  We know the twelve Apostles were all present and witnessed this event - the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 hungry by a compassionate Jesus who recognized both their spiritual and physical hunger.

As the Apostles came to him commenting on the obvious problem they faced: “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions . . .” Jesus challenged them: “Give them some food yourselves.” The paltry amount of bread and fish they had must have seemed an outlandish request from Jesus.  As always, our Lord used this event to teach a profound lesson of what the Eucharist implies for every one of us. A story of a well-known contemporary social activist may help: Dorothy Day.

Day was not raised a Catholic but came to the faith later in life. She was first attracted to the faith when she noticed that during the Catholic Mass, side by side, knelt both rich and poor.  Everyone approached communion without distinction and they sat, knelt and stood together in prayer.  She was impressed for there was something unique about this sacrament.  It implied a unity that was not so evident anywhere else. Here everyone was equal and shared a common belief.

As Jesus provided a meal for the throng that was gathered the Apostles took an active part even in the clean up afterwards when a clear abundance had been provided.  As we all participate in the Eucharist we are all called to the same.  Our second reading from Corinthians offers us that reminder.  

If we merely look at today’s second reading from first Corinthians with just the verses quoted it
sounds like a solid theological and historical reminder of what we believe is the origin of the Eucharist: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and , after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “this is my body that is for you . . . likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood . . .’” Every Holy Thursday evening we remember this great moment in the life of Jesus. But Paul was responding to a real concern.

In a time before any Christian Churches, the wealthy Christians with larger homes and rooms provided space for the community to gather for prayer and to “break bread.” If we go back a few verses before the ones we read today we see Paul strongly pointing to  his Christian community that when they gather for the Eucharist, everything else is going on: divisions, factions, eating and drinking, “one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry, while another gets drunk,”. . . In this matter I do not praise you!” (1Cor 17 – 22).  What a scene that must have been.  So Paul calls them to task and reminds them of the sacredness we all must not forget. Our continuation of Paul’s letter today re-established the tradition that was handed on to him by the Apostles of what Jesus shared at the Last Supper and that we believe he remains present to us under these signs of bread and wine.  So, put away everything else and focus on the reason why you gather.

In the end, we are reminded on this beautiful solemn feast that the Eucharist is food provided by a merciful God for our journey through life; that we may not hunger spiritually and inherit eternal life.  But, this “food” is unique – it is not a thing or an it but a person we receive. Christ has handed himself on to us and we, then, must do no less for each other.  So, there is a direct connection between our reception of the Eucharist and how we live our lives. This is clear from both Paul and what Jesus said to his inner circle – feed them yourselves.

What takes place in Church must continue beyond these walls in our homes, places of work, and our personal lives.  We are invited to be transformed by the food, the person of Christ, we receive.  It is this clear connection between receiving our Lord in the Eucharist and how we live our daily lives that is a point central to our Catholic and Christian faith.  The works of charity and compassion, mercy and reconciliation, generosity and selflessness should not be left only to our institutions.  Our personal lives, fed on the presence of Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity does not imply a passive reception.

When we see suffering we should be moved to some sort of action response.  When opportunities for assistance come along we should offer some of our time.  When a need is presented we should step forward: A compassionate touch, a smile, a helping hand, a willingness to put aside my own convenience and to be present to another, to rid my life of prejudice and ambition in favor of humility and acceptance.  To become who I am not after the model of Christ our food. 

In the busy lives we all live there must be room to: “Give them some food yourselves.”    

Grant, O Lord, we pray,
that we may delight for all eternity
in that share in your divine life,
which is foreshadowed in the present age
by our reception of your precious Body and Blood.
who live and reign for ever and ever.

(Prayer after Communion)